Backyard pools are proving more popular than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, as families look for recreation they can enjoy at home to fill the hole left by shuttered public pools and canceled summer activities.

Pool companies say installations are booked for more than a year out. Some cities have seen twice as many pool permit applications this summer as they got last year.

"This is a banner year for pools," said City Administrator Kurt Ulrich in Ramsey, where pool permits this year, 22 so far, are more than quadruple the yearly average of five. "Obviously, people can't travel as much so they're confined to their homes and their families are there with them."

This summer's steamy weather also has added to the appeal of taking a dip at home, pool owners said.

Blaine officials issued 22 permits through late July compared with 13 in 2018, while Lakeville's numbers have gone from six in 2019 to 18 this year. Woodbury officials issued 34 permits this year compared with 23 last year.

Larry Berczyk, president of Valley Pools and Spas, said his company has doubled its sales compared with last year and will stop taking pool orders soon because employees won't have time to install them all before winter.

"It's a great backyard investment," he said. "I always tell people, the one thing about it is you know where your kids are."

Travis Gause, materials manager at All Poolside Services, said he's never seen anything like this year. He said pool sales are up 15% from 2019, which was already considered a strong year.

While in-ground and conventional aboveground pools can be costly, with price tags easily reaching $80,000 for in-ground models, the backyard pool craze has been bolstered by a fairly new product: durable, inexpensive "pop-up" pools meant to be temporary and taken down at season's end and costing anywhere from $250 to $2,500.

Engineering improvements have resulted in more durable plastic products, including the tubing used in some Intex pools, contributing to the wave of bigger, sturdier pop-up pools, Prior Lake city planner Jeff Matzke said.

Erin Laberee of Rosemount bought an Intex pop-up pool online to keep her four sons, ages 8 to 14, busy this summer. The $2,000 pool is 4 feet deep and measures 16 by 32 feet. Laberee said she loves it so much her family now is considering installing an in-ground pool.

"It's been worth every penny," she said. "They're in it almost every day."

Pool is a 'lifesaver'

Private pools seem to have increased for all types and price ranges, though it's hard to know how many of the temporary pools exist because many cities don't require permits for them. Several pop-up pool owners said they assumed a permit wasn't necessary.

One measure of the popularity of temporary pools is that they're hard to find: Many websites and big-box stores have been sold out for a while.

Peter Ooley and his partner bought a $250 pop-up pool for their Richfield backyard so their 4-year-old daughter, Ingrid, could swim despite cancellation of her lessons at the YMCA.

"It's really been a lifesaver in that it's given her a safe place to swim," he said of the 13-foot-diameter, 3-foot-deep pool.

Pools don't always add value to home property and in some cases are seen as detrimental because they can be used only seasonally in Minnesota and require expensive upkeep. But some buyers say financial reasons played into their decision to install a pool this summer: Interest rates are low, government stimulus money is available and pricey vacations aren't an option, leaving many families with extra cash.

Melissa Boylan said she refinanced her Andover home because rates were low, and took out equity money to put toward a 16-by-32-foot above-ground pool.

"We were going stir crazy," she said. "What were we going to do all summer?"

Her daughters, ages 11 and 15, play volleyball and hold diving contests in the $8,000 pool. The pool project cost a total of $15,000 including grading, installation and a new deck, she said.

Some cities have updated their pool-related ordinances to deal with increased residential interest. Ramsey recently consolidated its rules, Ulrich said, while Prior Lake officials revised theirs to address several questions they were receiving this spring, Matzke said.

Under Prior Lake's updated ordinance, a permit isn't required for temporary pools and homeowners don't have to put a fence around them if they are at least 4 feet deep. In that case, owners can remove the ladder when not using the pool and there's no way young children can scale the pool walls and jump in.

Jay Lemcke, who installed a $75,000 in-ground pool in May in his Ramsey backyard, became one of eight homeowners in a row with a pool — and more are on the way. The 20-by-44-foot pool has been a great way to bring his family of seven together during the pandemic.

"I said, 'Let's just do it,' " Lemcke said. "[Now] we have people over all the time. The kids are always here."